In a major city like New York, the line between a person’s professional and social life can be incredibly hard to define. There’s generally a social component to any job, but particularly in such a densely populated city where success is facilitated as much by others as by personal achievement, it stands to reason that the more well-liked an employee is among their colleagues, the more satisfied they will be in their career. For careers which demand long hours in what can often be cramped office settings, the tendency for employees’ professional lives to bleed into their social circles is all the more likely.
To address the diminishing boundary between work and life, it makes sense that many companies, particularly those that have some essential creative component, have made a deliberate effort to eradicate that line and promote an atmosphere of team cohesion centered as much on social development as tangible results. For those professions which require creativity and ingenuity as much as they do a cold hard skillset, alcohol consumption is not only tolerated, it’s encouraged.
Take for instance the offices of J. Walter Thompson, a New York advertising agency famous for its fully stocked commercial bar that’s readily accessible to its employees during or after work hours. Another ad firm, Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal + Partners, holds open-bar events dubbed “Trolley’s,” taking their name from the liquor-stocked carts which were once peddled through the firm’s offices during work hours. Such stories are common throughout the history of the advertising industry, but they are now starting to crop up in adjacent professional fields.
While it’s uncommon to come across a company that tolerates its employees getting outright smashed, it’s worth noting that alcohol consumption is steadily creeping back into view as an accepted aspect of professional life. This trend is particularly evident among tech startups. Whether they’re looking to spark creativity or simply trying to create a team instead of a pool of co-workers, alcohol is a resource which many companies aren’t shy about exploiting in order to achieve their ultimate aim of success.
More than that, many companies find that drinking is simply part of youth culture, and therefore make an effort to attract young people by offering them the promise of a fun, exciting atmosphere to work in. Sean Madrid, a consultant for Manhattan Associates, has made it his profession to understand the climate necessary for success. As a result, he has become well-versed in the various cultures which are often deliberately instilled within companies to facilitate that success.
Madrid tells BTR that the drinking component of a company’s culture boils down to its industry. He explains that small tech startups often make a deliberate effort to draw on young, innovative talent, and therefore it isn’t uncommon for such businesses to hold happy hours, beer pong nights, or sometimes even keg parties in order to meet that end.
“The companies need to adapt to the workforce they’re looking to attract,” he reasons. “Of course, you usually won’t draw a seasoned venture capitalist by challenging him to a beer pong tournament, so it just depends on who the company is trying to bring in.”
Although he’s quick to point out that not all companies think that the key to luring young, energetic talent is by turning their offices into Animal House, he also mentions that alcohol consumption, on some level, is simply an accepted aspect of normal social behavior which isn’t confined to youthful startups.
“While it isn’t always necessary, alcohol is seen to provide the social lubricant, it just helps people break down some of the psychological and social barriers inherent in normal, day-to-day life,” says Madrid. “It makes sense for a company to encourage the sort of cohesion among their workers which results from that.”
As a result, the consumption of alcohol becomes an accepted (if not encouraged) component of the business world. While drinking may sponsor some level of comradery or boost morale, it is also not without its own set of drawbacks and consequences. The question then arises: Is there anything wrong with promoting a culture of consumption in professional life?
Throughout most eras of history, it seems, human beings have had a love-hate relationship with alcohol. It lowers inhibitions, makes for funny stories and entertaining misadventures, and can inspire genuine warmth and caring between individuals. Drinking can be a fun distraction, a source of pleasure, and remains a time-honored method of drowning sorrows and lifting spirits.
But what about the flip side of that coin? The uglier aspects of alcohol abuse such as addiction, drunken brawls, tragedies which result from drunk driving, and the trauma of sexual assaults linked directly to alcohol consumption are all factors which must be weighed.
Is it therefore wise for these companies to encourage alcohol consumption, and frankly, the inevitable abuse which may result over time? Is the business drinking culture conducive to the safety of both men and women in the workplace?
Some people might argue that a few moderately paced beers throughout the workday could provide a much-needed break and spark a creative impulse, and they might be right. But it’s worth examining the long-term consequences of a shortsighted business plan aimed at making new employees feel like college doesn’t have to end.
Featured image courtesy of Ashok Prabhakaran.